The L-1 visa is a temporary work and residence permit for the United States. The category allows internal staff transfers within a company group from the current foreign location to a U.S. location.
Applicants often apply for an L-1 visa as part of a standard international assignment. However, applicants may apply for this visa, for example, if they wish to participate in a long-term project or installation assignment at a U.S. site or U.S. customer facility.
The L-1 visa is tied to a business, i.e., the official applicant is the U.S. company seeking to hire the future employee. Therefore, an indispensable prerequisite of the application process is proving the existence of a U.S. site within the corporate group. The American company must have been active on the market (doing business”) for at least one year before the application is submitted. U.S. sites that have been active for less than a year may qualify as L-1 applicants. However, there are special provisions (L-1 new office). Under this visa the foreigner must work exclusively for the U.S. company that submitted the application. The only exception is so-called off-site employment, which allows employees to be deployed to customer sites under certain conditions.
Since the L-1 visa is issued to internal staff transferees within a company, proof must be provided that there is a qualifying link between a foreign site where the employee is currently employed and the proposed U.S. site (the hosting business unit), so that the staff transfer can take place.
The following are qualifying situations:
Both companies must be logically linked to each other through a major ownership stake. This list is not exhaustive, and other corporate structures are conceivable.
The employee who is to receive the L-1 visa must have been employed at his or her current site within the group (outside the U.S.) for at least 12 months (continuously) during the last three years. The employee must have a regular employment relationship. Freelancers or consultants, for example, do not qualify for this category. The law also assumes that the position that is being offered in the U.S. is a regular working contractual relationship (regular employment).
During the minimum one-year period of employment at the foreign company, the employee must have actively performed the functions of a manager, executive or specialist, and it must also be intended that the employee will perform the same job duties at the U.S. site. The U.S. authorities distinguish between the L-1A visa for managers/executives and the L-1B visa for specialists. In particular, L-1B applications will be strictly checked by the competent authorities.
Employees who receive an L-1 visa may continue to be paid by the foreign company or the U.S. site. A U.S. employment contract or a U.S. assignment agreement is not mandatory, but possible. The foreign assignment can also be performed under a foreign employment contract.
The initial application for a L-1A visa for managers/executives may be granted for a maximum period of three years and extended for 2-year increments for a total maximum of seven years.
The initial application for L-1B visas for specialists may be granted for a maximum period of three years and renewed once for two years for a total maximum of five years.
Companies that have been active on the U.S. market for less than a year can apply for an L-1A and L-1B “New Office visa for employees who will build up the U.S. site. However, the initial application may only be granted for a maximum of one year. However, applications for extension submitted thereafter may be granted for up to a maximum of five (L-1B) and seven years (L-1A).
L-1 applications must be submitted by mail in the United States to the appropriate service center of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This petition includes extensive documentation about the U.S. company, the foreign company location or group of companies, and documents confirming the qualifications as well as the current and future employment of the employee. After the L-1 petition is approved, the U.S. company will receive an award letter (I-797 Approval Notice) by mail.
During the last step the future employee must go through the consulate process during which the actual L-1 visa will be issued (the only exceptions to this procedure are status extension or change processes that are initiated from within the United States). The application process usually takes place during the personal interview at the appropriate U.S. consulate in the applicant’s home country.
Companies that meet certain entry requirements can obtain a so-called L Blanket registration for the group of companies and thus apply for an L-1 visa in accordance with a simplified procedure for their employees. See also: L Blanket.
Spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age receive a derivative L-2 visa lasting the same period as the principal applicant’s L-1 visa. Once children reach the American age of majority (21), they must change their non-immigrant visa status or leave the country.
A spouse can apply for his or her own work permit (Employment Authorization Document EAD) that is not tied to a specific U.S. company.
Spouses and children with an L-2 visa are allowed to attend private and public educational institutions.
The most important information about this visa category can also be found here, briefly summarized and free to download in PDF format.